Our Collections

sloth toe nail specimens in fossil lab

Our Collections

The plants and animals at Rancho La Brea make up one of the world's richest and most diverse late Pleistocene fossil collections!

The diversity of species, the quality of preservation, and the large numbers of specimens makes this collection invaluable for the study and understanding of ecological change over the past 50,000 years.

At the last census in 1992, the collection exceeded 3.5 million specimens.  It is perhaps best known for its extensive holdings of carnivorans, of which dire wolves (Canis dirus), saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis), and coyotes (Canis latrans) predominate among the 60 plus species of mammals. Asphalt is a superb preservative that protects small and delicate fossils, such as hollow bird bones. As a result, our collection of fossil birds is one of the world’s largest. Although historic collectors focused on large mammals, like saber-toothed cat skulls and ground sloth limb bones, the recent excavations spend a lot of time recovering the smaller fossils. Nearly all of the plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals are known only from these recent collecting efforts. 

  • Our arthropod collection is now available online through GBIF
  • View 3D models of some of our specimens on Sketchfab

Rancho La Brea by Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County on Sketchfab

Visiting the collections

The Rancho La Brea collections are available for any qualified person interested in doing formal research. All inquiries must be made through the Collections Managers at least 2 weeks in advance, depending on the request. If you wish to request a formal loan to your institution (no individual loans are granted) please allow adequate time for the request and paperwork to be filed. Applications from students must be accompanied by a letter of support from the student's academic advisor. The letter of support should include a brief description of the student's project. It should also include a statement about the student's prior experience working with museum specimens.

If you are requesting research that includes destructive sampling, please refer to our policy for more details. Making molds of specimens is considered potentially destructive.


Assistant Curator & Excavation Site Director

Dr. Emily Lindsey elindsey@tarpits.org

Assistant Curator

Dr. Regan Dunn rdunn@tarpits.org

Collections Managers

Aisling Farrell afarrell@tarpits.org
Gary Takeuchi gtakeuch@tarpits.org